Does continuing education matter for prelicensed therapists?

Brodie Vissers / Burst / Used under licenseTherapists and counselors never stop learning over the course of their careers. The educational process starts in graduate school, where trainees and students absorb as much information as they can within and outside of the classroom setting. In California, following graduation and registration with the BBS (Board of Behavioral Sciences), associate marriage and family therapists seek work and training opportunities that will allow them to continue expanding upon their knowledge of therapeutic techniques and treatment modalities. Once licensed, marriage and family therapists are required to obtain CEUs (Continuing Education Units*) in order to continue practicing.

We know that continuing education is important, but do continuing education hours matter for prelicensed therapists? CEUs are required in order to renew licenses with the BBS, but not registrations; therefore, the answer may seem like a straightforward “no.” The more complex answer is that CEUs can be beneficial for prelicensed therapists in certain situations.

Proof of Training

Prelicensed therapists often struggle to obtain the 3,000 hours needed for licensure, and one way to make progress (especially when caseloads are light) is to attend educational events. Workshops, conferences, and other training opportunities usually provide certificates to attendees, which include the number of CE hours earned. Licensed marriage and family therapists need to hold on to these certificates in case they are ever audited by the licensing board, in which case they would need to show proof of completing their continuing education requirement. But do prelicensed therapists need to do this as well?

Some therapists argue that applicants should always hold on to proof of training (in case the BBS audits the submitted 3,000 hours), while others claim this is unnecessary since supervisors sign off on the BBS weekly summary forms.

It’s worth noting that some supervisors are cautious about signing off on BBS weekly summary forms – and rightfully so. There have been instances of supervisees claiming hours they did not actually earn (yikes!), so supervisors may review client caseloads and progress notes to ensure the number of hours being claimed for clinical experience is accurate. For training (non-clinical experience), a supervisor may ask to see proof of attendance and confirm the number of hours earned based on the number of CE hours listed on the certificate. The answer to whether CE matters depends on what your supervisor requires in order to sign off on training hours.

Measurable Training

Prelicensed therapists have quite a bit of competition when applying for positions. Many employers want to see additional training post-graduation, and providing details about CEUs earned is one way to stand out. Consider the hypothetical scenario below.

Applicant A and Applicant B are applying for the same position with a program that specializes in treating adolescents with substance use disorders, and MI (Motivational Interviewing) is frequently utilized by staff. When filling out the application, Applicant A and Applicant B are asked to list any previous exposure to MI. Applicant A has attended two brief presentations on MI, whereas Applicant B has attended a two-day workshop on MI. Applicant A did not obtain CEUs for either presentation, whereas Applicant B indicates they obtained 16 CEUs (each day of training started at 8 AM and ended at 5 PM, with a one-hour lunch break from 12 PM to 1 PM).

In a perfect world, this employer would interview both applicants and provide them with the opportunity to demonstrate their unique strengths. At a glance, Applicant B may seem like the better prospect because of their more extensive exposure to MI. However, Applicant A may have other experience that makes them a more suitable candidate. In reality, employers are limited on how many applicants they can grant interviews to. When dozens of applications are being submitted, employers have to focus on a few variables and decide who will move on to the next step of the selection process based on those variables.

Sometimes, it’s not enough to simply have a master’s degree. Being able to measure the extent of one’s additional training can make a significant difference with employers, and CEUs are one way to do that.

Looking Ahead

After considering the two points above, you may conclude that CEUs don’t matter. You may have already maxed out on your non-clinical hours with the BBS, and you may have already obtained a paid position with a wonderful employer. If that’s the case, then congratulations! Now it’s time to look ahead and envision the path you want your career to take. Are you hoping to negotiate for a higher salary or more generous fee split with your current employer? Are you thinking about applying for a a supervisory or management position in the future? If so, then you may want to invest in additional training, and CE can help pave the way for justifying why a pay increase or promotion is warranted.

[While we’re on the subject of looking ahead, have you considered how you’ll keep track of all these CEUs once you begin to obtain them? 25% of licensed marriage and family therapists who were audited by the BBS in 2017 failed to meet the continuing education requirements. This can happen for a number of reasons, including failure to complete the required number of CE hours within the renewal period. Licensees who fail these audits are subject to a fine and citation (which goes on your public record and can be viewed online when verifying a license). If you’re hoping to avoid this potential pitfall, then be sure to check out TrackYourCEUs, which will be launching in the near future and is free for current and past TrackYourHours subscribers.]

* Note – The exact terminology used varies by licensure board. Some refer specifically to CE hours, while others use the term units. Generally speaking one hour of continuing education is considered one unit, or one CEU. Bear in mind that this can be different from the meaning of the term “unit” in an academic setting, where a single semester unit typically equates to about 15 contact hours.